A Snapshot in Time…… Researching the Waterfront in 1851

A Snapshot in Time…… Researching the Waterfront in 1851

I was interested in researching a specific time on the Waterfront, and the year of the 1851 census seemed suitable since this was the first national census to provide information about birthplace, exact age and relationships. The area we are covering appeared in three different enumeration districts, two in Wakefield and one in Alverthorpe with Thornes.  Since these covered the whole of Thornes Lane, and a good part of Doncaster Road it was difficult to extrapolate the exact boundaries, and therefore some properties may be included that were not, in fact, within the area we are covering.  The different enumerators also recorded the details in slightly different ways, one enumerator consistently listing “wife” as an occupation.

However, having added each entry to a spreadsheet, I had some guide to the total population within the area, numbering 1,663.  I was also able to discover the number of residents born in Wakefield, the number born elsewhere in Yorkshire, and the number born elsewhere in the country.  The majority of these were, as you would expect, in adjacent counties, with only 3  born in Scotland, 1 in Wales, and 1 in Ireland.  It also seemed clear that that the river itself was important in settlement, many being born upriver in Mirfield, or downriver at Knottingley.

I could also ascertain how the residents were employed, for instance how many were working on the boats, how many for the railway, how many in the mills, how many were shopkeepers or in domestic service.  A separate column also showed who was blind, or deaf and dumb.

Sources at Wakefield Local Studies Library, including the Electoral Roll, the Poll Book and the Burgess Roll, provided me with information about some of the more substantial residents of the Waterfront.  Pam Judkins had already extracted entries from the directories for the period, which added to the information I was gathering.

A visit to the Natiional Archives in London to look at the Tithe Maps and Apportionments for Wakefield, and for Thornes provided me with information about the ownership and occupation of the land, and the nature of the land (arable, meadow etc)

Microfilm of the local newspapers of 1851 at Wakefield Local Studies library included some of the major concerns of the businesses on the waterfront.  Very full details of the Soke Case which was going through the Courts are described.  This was about the rights of the Lord of the Manor to insist that all corn should be ground at King’s Mill by Wakefield Bridge. I discovered that a Regatta on the river was held on Broad Reach that year, and the outcome of each race reported. There were also the usual reports of the baptisms marriages and deaths of residents.

I was disappointed to find that there were no Poor Law records for this period for Wakefield or for Alverthorpe with Thornes and no Licence records for Licensed Victuallers in the Petty Sessions.  There are no Land Tax records either, but there is  still further research to pursue.  I have already started to look at the Registry of Deeds to see what property was changing hands.

I decided against researching the businesses, since to do this would be a project in itself, and my focus was on the people living there, rather than working there.

Shirley Levon

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